Xiaoxian “Lily” Lin: Learning to Think Independently
Emily Weir

Before Xiaoxian “Lily” Lin arrived at NMH, she’d been a high-achieving middle-schooler in Guangzhou, China, where she did lots of memorizing. “With the education at home, there was almost always a correct answer, even when we were learning about literature,” she says. So at NMH, in her ninth-grade Humanities class, she found her first essay assignment a struggle. “My teachers told me to use my own voice, and they pushed me to think about what I really believed in. But I kept looking for the right answer.”
Fast forward a semester or two. Lily quickly became a math and science standout. She also got the hang of thinking independently and of viewing any academic missteps as opportunities instead of failures. “NMH challenged me to do things I didn’t see myself as good at,” she says. She played sports she’d never tried before, like rowing and Nordic skiing, and she grew interested in history because she liked learning about “how things came to be.” She realized that asking questions was a sign of strength. Now she advises new students to “ask lots of questions — critical questions, dumb questions — all the time.” 
Lily’s own queries covered a broad spectrum. In AP Computer Science, she asked questions about organizing code. After joining NMH’s Student Diversity Committee, her questions focused on identity and social justice. In her World History and Women’s History classes, she asked about colonialism and feminism. And at her first Ultimate Frisbee team practice, she had to ask how to throw a Frisbee. (Later, she was elected captain of the girls’ varsity team.)
In her occasional free moments, Lily asks — and tries to answer — questions about gender issues on her blog, Feminist3, on China’s WeChat social media platform. “When I jumped into diversity work as a sophomore, it helped me find my confidence, as a girl in particular. Now I want to help other Chinese young people back home do the same thing.”